Does Arnold Schwarzenegger Owe Child Support?
Much attention has been given in the last two weeks to the disclosure that former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger fathered a child with the family's housekeeper, and kept that information a secret from his now-estranged wife, Maria Shriver. Most of the focus in regard to this story has been about the impact of the disclosure on Schwarzenegger's family with Maria. One can only imagine how shocking it had to be, not only to Maria, but also to the children, to learn that all of this time both Schwarzenegger and the housekeeper kept the fact of the boy's parentage a secret from Schwarzenegger's family. There has also been attention placed on the fact that the child born of the housekeeper, Mildred Baena, is almost exactly the same age as Schwarzenegger's youngest son. These two boys grew up simultaneously, not knowing that they were related. What has not been given much attention in the media, however, are the financial implications of this situation as they concern child support and the question of whether Baena has relinquished large amounts of child support that her son is entitled to the benefit of.
California law provides that children are to share in the lifestyle of their parents. Appellate court decisions have addressed the fact that in the case of a parent who is an extraordinarily high earner, child support awards can often allow the other parent to enjoy a better lifestyle as a result. While some states, such as New York, put caps on the amount of child support that can be ordered payable by a parent, California does not. In a state like California, with its concentration of celebrities and high-tech entrepreneurs, child support awards in the thousands of dollars per month per child are not unheard of. In fact, it is these types of people that have given rise to the development of various California appellate court decisions over the years, upholding high child support orders entered against extremely wealthy fathers. Schwarzenegger would easily fit into that category.
The media has publicized the type of lifestyle that Schwarzenegger himself enjoys. He and Ms. Shriver resided in an expansive estate on the Westside of Los Angeles. Schwarzenegger drives several high profile vehicles, and travels extensively. The money that Schwarzenegger has earned from his work in the film industry is substantial. That money affords a lifestyle that most people can only dream about and one which most people cannot even comprehend living.
There is information in the news media that Schwarzenegger provided support to Baena for the child they have together since the time of the child's birth through some type of confidential arrangement. Recent reports suggest that Schwarzenegger also provided Baena with the funds necessary to make the downpayment on her Bakersfield, California home. The details of the financial arrangement between these parents has not been disclosed and we may never know exactly how much Schwarzenegger has been paying. However, this raises an interesting legal issue. In California, child support is supposed to be paid for the benefit of the children. Did Baena agree to accept less child support than her son was entitled to?
This brings us back to the issue of lifestyle. If we compare the lifestyles of the two sons at issue here who are the same age, the differences are quite dramatic. Schwarzenegger's son with Maria Shriver, now rumored to be living in a Beverly Hills hotel, has grown up living in spacious mansions, tended to by staff members (including, ostensibly, Baena). He has attended private school which, in Los Angeles can run $50,000 per year per child. Undoubtedly, this young man has had the benefit of just about anything that his parents wished to provide for him, and their resources with which to provide are quite substantial.
Contrast that to Baena's son, who is living in Bakersfield in what appears to be a middle-class area. We know little of what his life was like prior to this, other than the fact that his mother's car was repossessed back in 2004. It doesn't take much, however, to figure out that this boy's life is dramatically different from that of his half-brother. And, considering the state of the law in California, it is fairly safe to assume that if Baena sought it, she could end up being the recipient of a fairly significant amount of child support being paid on a monthly basis by Schwarzenegger. With the fact of the affair and the existence of the child now being made public, one must question whether it is only a matter of time before Baena pursues Schwarzenegger for more support.
In another twist unique to California, if Baena pursues this course of action, we may never know what the final outcome is in terms of the amount of support Baena receives. The child that resulted from this affair, if that is what it was, was born out of wedlock. In California, court files of cases involving children born out of wedlock are sealed and the proceedings are confidential. Child support disputes between married parents are open to the public. Considering how long Schwarzenegger and Baena were able to keep the fact that they even had a child together out of the public eye, this aspect of their relationship may not come to light either, even if it is resolved by a court.